If any indie rock group was going to host a “family podcast” featuring music videos teaching children the alphabet and basic arithmetic, it was going to be They Might Be Giants, the geek legends whose goofy, catchy pop tunes – Istanbul (Not Constantinople), Dr. Worm, the 2002 release No! meant for “the entire family) have always bordered on the childlike.
They Might Be Giants Friday Night Family Podcast began airing monthly and then weekly in November 2007 on the Giants’ This Might Be a Wiki site and has the band’s two Johns (Flansburgh and Linell) starring as orange felted, green sweatered puppets providing intros to videos from their Here Come the ABCs and Here Come the 123s CD/DVDs.
Since the latter was released earlier this year by Walt Disney Records, the podcast, also under the Disney umbrella, feels a bit like a promotional tool rather than an original media excursion, but TMBG and their puppet avatars make the most of it with silly skits, holiday-themed episodes, and even, occasionally, an old Giants song performed in their new green screen surroundings.
Before getting to the fun stuff, however, a question must be broached: who exactly are these songs and videos aimed at?
TMBGFNFP is supposed to be a podcast “For kids, for families, for YOU,” but one wonders if songs like C is for Conifers which names various obscure tree forms (aired strategically for Arbor Day), and the same episode’s One Everything, about the reducibility of the world to a single entity (“we share the same omniverse”), will just go over kids’ heads for the sake of some clever lyrical whimsy.
###Simply put, there’s a snarky, above-it-all quality to the Here Come the ABCs/123s project that tends toward the over-calculated precious aspect of TMBG’s approach.
For the Giants’ dedicated cult fan base that quality will likely prove these songs as endearing as anything else they’ve ever done, but for target “families” I can’t imagine even the most hipster parents actually using these songs and videos to school their organic-fed offspring. The whole thing smacks of TMBG attempting to justify their genre-bending experiments at the very extremes of twee by going so far as to perform in a children’s entertainment format.
Nonetheless, if you can tolerate a weekly overdose of cute, TMBGFNFP is your podcast.
Most episodes contain numbers (pun intended) such as Nonagon and the kid-voiced One Dozen Monkeys, both of which are damn – I’m sorry, darn – infectious. The mostly animated videos are top notch realizations of the songs produced by a host of different artists and range from the consciously retro (the dueling magicians of Letter Shapes who conjure memories of the live action wonder of Sesame Street) to the chicly contemporary (the advanced rotoscoping of Rolling O).
It’s all so adorable it might very well melt your outer cynic. Heck, maybe there’re even some kids out there who’ll be cool enough to watch it over Dora and Diego.